Law­suit tar­gets opi­oid mak­ers

Se­bas­tian County man seeks class ac­tion for ad­dicted in state

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DOUG THOMP­SON

FAYET­TEVILLE — A Se­bas­tian County man who says he be­came ad­dicted to painkillers sued drug man­u­fac­tur­ers Thurs­day, seek­ing mil­lions in dam­ages.

The suit seeks to be de­clared a class ac­tion on be­half of all Arkansans suf­fer­ing from opi­oid ad­dic­tion. It seeks un­spec­i­fied dam­ages be­yond $5 mil­lion, the min­i­mum thresh­old of dam­ages for this type of suit, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments. The suit also seeks at­tor­neys’ fees and costs.

Michael Ray Lewis was first pre­scribed opi­oids in 2005 and was sub­se­quently treated for ad­dic­tion re­lated to his pre­scrip­tions, the suit says. Lewis filed suit in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Fayet­teville

against Pur­due Pharma, a lim­ited part­ner­ship and pre­scrip­tion drug com­pany based in New York, N.Y., and other man­u­fac­tur­ers of opi­oids.

Two phone calls and an email to Pharma press spokes­men weren’t re­turned Fri­day af­ter­noon. Calls to Lewis’ at­tor­neys were also not re­turned.

Ok­la­homa’s at­tor­ney gen­eral also filed suit Fri­day against opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers, also mak­ing al­le­ga­tions of de­cep­tive mar­ket­ing cam­paigns fu­el­ing an epi­demic of drug abuse. This fol­lows sim­i­lar law­suits by Mis­souri, Ohio and Mis­sis­sippi. In ad­di­tion, the Chero­kee Na­tion filed suit in April.

A re­port on 2015 lev­els of opi­oid ad­dic­tion across the United States by Blue Cross Blue Shield found the most pa­tients fill­ing pre­scrip­tions for opi­oids as a seg­ment of the over­all pop­u­la­tion to be in Ok­la­homa, Ar­kan­sas, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama. Slightly lower rates were found in Ge­or­gia, Ten­nessee, North and South Carolina, West Vir­ginia and In­di­ana.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has called the opi­oid epi­demic a top pri­or­ity, and the pres­i­dent has named his for­mer ad­viser, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to head a com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter. In a June meet­ing, ex­perts said Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion — a key tar­get of the GOP’s pro­posed health care re­vi­sion— is key to the de­liv­ery of ef­fec­tive ad­dic­tion treat­ment.

Christie’s panel was ex­pected to pro­vide draft rec­om­men­da­tions this week. But it has post­poned fur­ther meet­ings and a re­lease of rec­om­men­da­tions.

Be­fore the 1990s, opi­oids were used only to treat short­term acute pain or for end-oflife care, the Ar­kan­sas law­suit claims.

“By the late 1990s, how­ever, and con­tin­u­ing to­day, each de­fen­dant be­gan a mar­ket­ing scheme de­signed to per­suade doc­tors and pa­tients that opi­oids can and should be used for chronic pain, a far broader group of pa­tients much more likely to be­come ad­dicted and suf­fer other ad­verse ef­fects from long-term use of opi­oids,” the suit claims.

Those mar­ket­ing cam­paigns down­played the risks of opi­oids, in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion, ac­cord­ing to the suit. The com­pa­nies’ ac­tiv­i­ties in­cluded “fund­ing, as­sist­ing, di­rect­ing and en­cour­ag­ing seem­ingly neu­tral and cred­i­ble pro­fes­sional so­ci­eties and pa­tient ad­vo­cacy groups” to mask those risks, the suit al­leges.

“Since 2012, Ar­kan­sas has ranked in the top 10 among all states for the num­ber of pre­scribed opi­oids” per per­son, the suit says, cit­ing a study by the Ar­kan­sas Cen­ter for Health Im­prove­ment, a non­profit group based in Lit­tle Rock. “By 2016, the to­tal num­ber of opi­oid doses pre­scribed to Ar­kan­sas pa­tients had soared to 109 mil­lion — enough to sup­ply ev­ery man, woman and child in the state with 38 pills each.”

Those fig­ures are for legally pre­scribed drugs, the suit says. Il­le­gal con­sump­tion is both in ad­di­tion to that and un­ac­counted for, the suit says. The avail­able fig­ures cited in the suit for le­gal con­sump­tion show 1.7 mil­lion opi­oid pre­scrip­tions is­sued in a state with a pop­u­la­tion of just un­der 3 mil­lion.

“Ef­forts by physi­cians to re­verse course for a chronic pain pa­tient with long term de­pen­dence on opi­oids are of­ten thwarted by a se­condary crim­i­nal mar­ket,” the suit claims. That crim­i­nal mar­ket of­fers heroin as a sub­sti­tute, the suit claims.

Be­sides Pur­due Pharma, the suit names: Cephalon Inc. of Frazer, Penn., and its par­ent com­pany, Teva Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals USA Inc.; Janssen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals Inc. of Ti­tusville, N.J.; Endo Health So­lu­tions Inc. of Malvern, Penn.; and Ac­tavis Pharma Inc. of Par­sip­pany, N.J.

Sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives from th­ese com­pa­nies lob­bied in­di­vid­ual doc­tors and med­i­cal staff in their of­fices to give, in de­tail, the sup­posed ben­e­fits of opi­oids for chronic pain, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

“In 2014 alone, de­fen­dants spent $168 mil­lion in de­tail­ing branded opi­oids to doc­tors” through­out the United States, the suit says. “This amount is twice as much as de­fen­dants spent on de­tail­ing in 2000.” Of that, $108 mil­lion was spent by Pur­due, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

The com­pa­nies also used sup­pos­edly neu­tral, sci­en­tific third-party groups to make claims about the ben­e­fits and lack of risks of opi­oids they didn’t claim in the com­pa­nies’ own ad­ver­tise­ments, which are re­viewed by the fed­eral Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion for ac­cu­racy, the suit says.

Pur­due paid $231,000 over five years to 11 doc­tors and other ex­perts that pro­moted opi­oid use for chronic pain, as found in a case brought by the at­tor­ney gen­eral for New York, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

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